Here are syllabi for courses I am currently teaching or have taught in the past. Fellow instructors -- feel free to use these syllabi (or parts of them) in your own courses. Students -- if you have a question about a course or want to know when it might be taught in the future, please get in touch.
Seminar: Practical Reasoning in Aristotle and Hume
What is the connection between practical rationality, and the morality of one’s actions? The answer to this question depends on what practical rationality is. Very broadly speaking, “practical reasoning”, or deliberation, is the human process of figuring out what to do. But philosophers disagree about what practical reasoning is like, and what its purpose is in human life. Some philosophers (Aristotle and Kant, for example) argue that one is not being fully (practically) rational unless one is doing the morally right thing. Others (Hume, most conspicuously) believe that one can be rational without being moral, and vice versa. Practical reasoning in the (neo-)Humean view is instrumental: it is a tool for figuring out how to do what we want to do, regardless of whether what we want to do is good, bad, or indifferent. In the neo-Kantian and neo-Aristotelian view, instrumental rationality is only one part of full practical rationality; to be practically rational one must also choose sound or wise ends.
In this class, we will examine conceptions of practical reason in the work of Hume, Aristotle, and several neo-Aristotelian and neo-Humean philosophers of the 20th and 21st centuries. We will attend especially to the question of what, if anything, practical rationality has to do with moral goodness or wisdom. We will also consider some common strengths of Aristotelian and Humean views, and (time permitting) some challenges to both.
Introduction to Philosophy
In this course we will focus on developing the basic skills of philosophical thinking, writing, reading, and conversation. These methods can be applied to a very wide range of important questions in human life. In our course, we’ll develop these skills by thinking, reading, writing, and talking about some of the following questions:
What makes a life a good life?
What makes certain actions right, or wrong?
What makes a person the same person over time?
What, if anything, is special about “scientific” ways of knowing? Are there “empirical” (observation or experience-based) ways of coming to know things that are not science, and if so, what’s the difference?
After practicing philosophical ways of thinking about these questions, you will be able to apply the philosophical training you have received in any context you choose – whether that’s in subsequent philosophy classes, in your other courses, or in the “real world” of your daily life.
Ethical theories usually try to do two things. First, they give a comprehensive explanation of what makes actions right and wrong. Second, they usually give some sort of guide to deliberation: a reliable method for reaching the morally right decision, and acting on it. In this course, we will look closely at several ethical theories in the Western tradition, focusing mainly on the following schools of thought: Aristotelian, Humean, Utilitarian, and Kantian. Our emphasis will be on philosophical methods and on rigorous, critical reading of texts. At the same time, with the help of a series of film screenings, we will ask whether (and how) each type of theory can answer the basic questions of ethics for us, here and now.
An ethic is a code or a set of ideals governing human conduct. So an environmental ethic is basically a code or set of ideals governing how humans must conduct themselves in relation to the environment. That means that in environmental ethics, we have to think not only about ethics, but also about our theory of nature (how the natural world it is structured, what it is made of, what rules and laws govern it, how it came to be, and so on). After all, the environmental ethic you live by will depend a lot on the theory of nature you accept.
The course will be divided into roughly two parts. First, we will look at the historical roots of the currently-dominant Western theory of nature, and relate it to the environmental ethic it supports. Then we will consider a series of alternative environmental ethics, keeping in mind the theories of nature behind each of them.